Gear up, get your voice heard – say no to coal | Guest column

By Chom Greacen

Special to the Islands’ Weekly

This article is the last of the three-part series on the planned exports of coal and tar sands oil exports through the waters surrounding our islands.

The proposed plans to ship 48 million tons of coal and 160 million barrels of tar sands oil each year using our waterways is clearly a concern to many of us living here in the beautiful San Juans. But how do we make our concerns heard? This article hopes to help answer this question.

First, let’s start with some facts.

We, the residents in San Juan County, have no direct say in the decisions by the Canadian authorities to permit the planned pipeline and Vancouver port expansions to vastly increase the flow volume of tar sands oil from Alberta into oil tankers.

Though dredging of waterways to accommodate larger tankers and potential spills in the Salish Sea may affect the orca population, marine and shoreline ecology as well as our tourism-based economy, the tar sands oil exports remain strictly Canadian business as long as tankers don’t cross the maritime national boundaries.

We do have a standing on the issues of coal exports, however. The plan to build one of the largest coal export facilities on the continent at Cherry Point, Bellingham, is under review right now. One of the main purposes of environmental review process is citizen involvement.

For the Gateway Pacific Terminal project at Cherry Point to go through, the project developers, SSA Marine, must obtain various permits and approvals from various agencies including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Whatcom County Council, and Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Army Corps of Engineers has determined that the GPT project has significant impacts and will require an Environmental Impact Statement. It will conduct the scoping process and complete the EIS, likely in collaboration with Whatcom County and the Washington Department of Ecology.

The scoping process is an important one for us, concerned residents.This is where our inputs are sought and the scope of impacts established for the EIS. SSA Marine will of course argue for as narrow a scope possible, limiting to mostly immediate impacts of expanding the existing terminal. Residents of Whatcom County, areas around other proposed terminals and along the railway routes have organized and voiced their concerns, mostly about land and shoreline impacts. It will be up to us to make sure our concerns about impacts of shipping through our waters are also included because no one else will.

The timing for the scoping process has yet to be determined but will likely start very soon in the fall and last 90 to 120 days. It is time to get organized and ready.

Friends of the San Juans has been working with other groups in both the U.S. and Canada to build a coalition to focus on shipping issues, called the Safe Shipping Alliance of the Salish Sea. A few months ago, Orcas launched the No COALition and been active in getting Orcas residents informed. In solidarity with Orcas, several of us Lopezians have started the Lopez No COALition (www.lopeznocoalition.org). Waldron is also thinking along a similar line and hopefully other islands will follow suit.

Having a name is a good start, but real action and mobilization need to follow. This is where you come in. All are invited to start conversations, join, help shape and organize meetings and activities on Lopez. As we gear up for the scoping process, here are some of the upcoming events:

August 28 at the library: Film “A Dirty Business, Clean Coal & the Battle for our Energy Future,” followed by a discussion led by Lopezian San Olson.

September 9 at the Lopez Center, Friends of the San Juans is bringing leading scientists/experts to Lopez to share information about impacts of coal/tar sands oil shipping through our waters.

September 23 at the Lopez Center: Film “A Sea Change, Imagine a World Without Fish,” followed by a discussion led by Russel Barsh.

You can visit www.lopeznocoalition.org to be informed of activities and read past articles in this series and more.